Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, March 17, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
As more and more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine shots, some who have spent months suffering from the virus are reporting they’re seeing their symptoms disappear after their vaccinations, leaving experts with yet another puzzling clinical development surrounding the disease.
Meanwhile, drug companies continue their research around existing and new vaccines. Moderna has begun a study that will test its COVID vaccine in children and babies in the United States and Canada. And in China, authorities have approved a fifth COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, one that was developed by the head of its Center for Disease Control.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.
Washington, Washington State volleyball series canceled because of COVID-19
The Washington volleyball team’s weekend series at Washington State has been canceled because of COVID-19 developments in the Cougars program.
The in-state rivals were to play Friday and Sunday in Pullman. The schools announced the matches will not be rescheduled.
The No. 8 Huskies (13-3) will play Saturday at Stanford. The Cougars are working with the school and county to determine when the team will play again.
Woman refuses to wear mask in Texas, again, gets arrested
GALVESTON, Texas — An Oregon woman who was recorded on police body camera video refusing to wear a mask at a Texas bank last week was arrested Wednesday after declining to wear a mask inside another Texas business.
Terry Wright, 65, already had a warrant out for her arrest after she refused to wear a mask in a Bank of America branch in Galveston, Texas, last Thursday. On the video, she taunts the officer, asking if he’s going to arrest her.
Police arrested Wright on Wednesday after she entered the Office Depot in Texas City and said she would not cover her nose and mouth to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, police spokesman Cpl. Allen Bjerke said. She was arrested on Galveston warrants for trespassing and resisting arrest, Bjerke said.
Wright, of Grants Pass, Oregon, was taken into custody without incident, Bjerke added, noting that she was not charged for trespassing at the office supply store and that no additional charges were expected.
Ohio attorney general sues Biden administration over $1.9 trillion stimulus
WASHINGTON — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, alleging the federal government sought to impose “unconstitutional” limits on states’ ability to access some of the aid.
The lawsuit from Yost, a Republican, follows a day after 21 other GOP attorneys general issued their own legal threat in a move that increased tensions between states and Democratic policymakers in Washington over one of the largest rescue measures in U.S. history.
The Ohio lawsuit centers on a $350 billion fund meant to help cities, counties and states cover the costs of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The stimulus law opened the door for cash-strapped local governments to tap federal aid to pay for expenses, including for first responders, though it prohibited states from using the money to directly or indirectly offset new tax cuts.
To Ohio, though, the restriction on cutting taxes is overly broad, putting states that had planned any tax cuts — even those that predate the pandemic — in jeopardy of losing access to the federal relief money. Yost said the federal government had no right to make a such demand, and the attorney general asked a federal court in Ohio to grant a preliminary injunction preventing the portion of the stimulus law from being enforced.
EU announces vaccine passport plan to enable summer travel
BERLIN — The European Union on Wednesday launched a closely watched effort to create a joint vaccination passport for its more than 440 million citizens and residents, embarking on a tightrope walk between economic pressures, discrimination fears and concerns over Europe’s slow vaccination progress.
Supporters hope the “digital green certificates” will be ready by June, which could help to salvage the European summer tourism season and even serve as a model that could be extended to the United States and other countries. But E.U. countries lag far behind the United States in vaccinations, which has raised concerns that the passport plan could be launched prematurely.
The passes are expected to be digital or paper documents for travelers to prove that they have been vaccinated, that they recovered from the virus or recently tested negative for it. In many cases, this could free travelers from quarantine obligations.
Those privileges could eventually also apply to Americans or British citizens traveling to continental Europe, given that all vaccines approved in the two countries are also approved for use in the European Union. Greece, Cyprus and several other E.U. countries have already announced or are working on plans to welcome British travelers back within months. But E.U. borders will remain closed to most Americans — even those who are vaccinated — until the bloc lifts its travel restrictions.
Creative outdoor concert set for Boeing Field hangar this month
Eva Walker is excited. Make that “suuuuuuuper excited.”
It’s been a long, up-and-down year for The Black Tones frontwoman, whose blues-punk band hasn’t been in front of a nonvirtual crowd since “social distancing” meant dodging the annoying guy at a party. But Walker’s unfortunate showless streak is about to snap, and the energetic rocker and radio host can barely contain her giddiness.
“It’s going to be super weird at first,” Walker says. “But I think it’s going to feel really good because we’re all going to be like, ‘Oh my god, you guys! We’re all here. Holy (expletive)! Welcome back!’ It’s going to be really weird in a really good way, because we’ve all been waiting for something.”
That something arrives March 28 when the Seattle rock darlings are set to play a live, in-person concert in an airplane hangar at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. Singer-songwriter and former “Voice” contestant Payge Turner will open what organizers are billing as “Seattle’s first socially distanced outdoor concert.”
It’s not exactly the first. (First legal one that doesn’t require a vehicle, perhaps.) Over the past year, a small number of artists and promoters have explored socially distanced concerts, be it drive-in jam rock bashes in a Snoqualmie Valley field or a semi-discreet, boat-in gig with David Bazan and other local faves on Lake Union. But a new organization dubbed Safe & Sound Seattle hopes its fledgling event series will jump-start the city’s mostly dormant live music scene and provide a model for throwing responsible and financially viable shows in the COVID-19 age.
State health officials confirm 896 new coronavirus cases in Washington
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 896 new coronavirus cases and 7 new deaths on Wednesday.
The update brings the state's totals to 352,012 cases and 5,156 deaths, meaning that 1.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
In addition, 19,957 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 47 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 86,850 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,442 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 2,517,506 doses and 12.37% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 44,165 vaccine shots per day.
The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.
Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe volunteer at Seattle’s giant new vaccination site at Lumen Field Event Center
Day 3 at what is being called the largest civilian-run COVID-19 vaccination site in the U.S. featured some star-power Wednesday. OL Reign and USWNT forward Megan Rapinoe and Storm guard Sue Bird were among the 500 volunteers at Lumen Field Event Center where people were receiving their vaccine shots.
Bird and Rapinoe, who are also engaged, were part of the site’s early shift, greeting and helping with the health screenings as people arrived. By afternoon, they were part of the crew directing people to vaccination stations.
Collaboration between the city, First & Goal, which owns the facility, and Swedish Health Services brought the site together. Rapinoe and Bird worked through the Storm to sign up as volunteers, Wednesday being an off-day for Reign players.
While site supervisors knew the Olympians would be volunteering Wednesday, a spokesperson said there were plenty of surprised faces from people arriving for their scheduled shots and other volunteers. Bird and Rapinoe made a short speech to thank those volunteers, many who are front-line workers for the city that were re-positioned to convert the event center into a vaccination hub.
Where’s my stimulus payment? Maybe in your account (finally!)
For the third time in less than a year, the federal government is sending stimulus payments to millions of Americans, no small logistical feat. But that doesn’t mean it will go smoothly for everyone.
Some 90 million payments — totaling about $242.2 billion — are landing in bank accounts via direct deposit Wednesday, the Treasury Department said. An additional 150,000 payments should also arrive shortly, in the form of paper checks. And still more will go out in the coming weeks.
The payments — a maximum of $1,400 — are the largest issued to date, and eligibility has been expanded to dependent adults, including college students. As with previous rounds of pandemic stimulus, many banks are making the full amount of the payments available to customers, even if the money went into overdrawn accounts.
But there could still be bumps ahead for some recipients. The fast phase-outs of payments at higher incomes mean people might receive less than they would have under prior rounds, or no payment at all. The legislative process that Congress used to pass the bill has left payments vulnerable to private debt collectors. Your payment could arrive in a different form this time. And the eligibility rules mean you may (or may not) be allowed to keep a payment issued for a now-deceased spouse.
There’s even been confusion in recent days about the timing of the payments, after some financial institutions chose to make the money available before the government actually began delivering it Wednesday.
Employees at Trump’s Chicago hotel got vaccinated early, thanks to a hospital whose COO lives in the building
Employees at former President Donald Trump’s Chicago tower got special early access to coronavirus vaccines, arranged by a hospital whose chief operating officer owns a $2.7 million condo in Trump’s building, city officials said Wednesday.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, said she was “disappointed” that 72 employees of Trump’s hotel and condo tower had been vaccinated on March 10 and 11 — despite city guidelines saying that hotel employees would not be eligible until March 29.
“We have a finite amount of vaccine in the city. We’ve been really, really careful to make sure that we’re using it in a way that prioritizes the most vulnerable people who are most at risk and most at risk of spreading it,” Lightfoot said in a news conference Wednesday. She added: “We just can’t have something like this happen again.”
Lightfoot said the city had asked for more details about the vaccination event from its organizer, Loretto Hospital. The small hospital is located in a majority-Black neighborhood nine miles from Trump’s downtown tower and says its mission is to provide vaccines to the “minority communities hardest hit” by the pandemic.
The hospital did not respond to questions from The Washington Post on Wednesday. day earlier, it had issued a statement saying that hospital executives had been “mistaken” about when hotel employees were eligible to be vaccinated.
Minnesota governor quarantines after staff member tests positive for virus
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is quarantining for 10 days after being exposed to a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19, the governor’s spokesman said Wednesday.
Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm were in the same room as the staff member for a press conference on Monday but did not spend more than 15 minutes within six feet of the individual, spokesman Teddy Tschann said in a statement. The staff member discovered on Wednesday morning that a test they took Tuesday was positive.
The three will quarantine through March 25, meaning Walz will postpone his State of the State address that had been scheduled for later this month, Tshann said.
Walz has not yet received a coronavirus vaccine, Flanagan has received one dose of the Moderna vaccine and Malcolm received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot last week.
A year into pandemic, home foreclosures are rare
Lender moratoriums are keeping home foreclosures at unheard of low levels.
In February, only 11,281 nationwide home foreclosure notices were recorded — down 77% from a year earlier, according to the latest report from Attom Data Solutions.
“Extensions to the federal government’s foreclosure moratorium and CARES Act mortgage forbearance program continue to keep foreclosure activity historically low,” Rick Sharga, executive vice president of RealtyTrac, an Attom Data Solutions company, said in the report.
About 2.6 million U.S. homeowners are still receiving payment forbearance from lenders because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While housing analysts expect foreclosure filings to increase when lender forbearance programs end, huge increases in home values during the last year will make it easier for troubled mortgage holders.
NCAA teams hit by COVID pauses take hope from antibodies
Baylor coach Scott Drew could sympathize with Kansas counterpart Bill Self when the Jayhawks had a positive COVID-19 test during the Big 12 Tournament, forcing them to withdraw and putting their NCAA Tournament hopes in limbo.
After all, the Bears went through their own pause this season. Twice.
They struggled mightily coming out of it, too, barely squeaking by Iowa State before Kansas dealt them their only regular-season loss. They still have not looked like the national title contender they were before the pauses.
“ My heart went out to them,” Drew said of the Jayhawks, “because I know how the players feel about that, and how tough it is on them, and I know the concerns the coaching staff will have to have with safety going forward.”
Then again, maybe coaches won’t be quite as concerned.
All those pauses that 27 of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament went through during the season could end up benefitting them now that they’ve arrived in Indianapolis. Players, coaches and staff members who tested positive still have lingering antibodies, making them less susceptible to getting COVID-19 again — and potentially forcing their team to withdraw from the biggest tournament of their lives.
After vaccine freeze, European countries seek a quick thaw
First, France abruptly halted AstraZeneca vaccinations. Now, the French prime minister wants to get one as soon as he can.
With the virus rebounding from Paris to Budapest and beyond, European governments that rushed to suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccines after reports of blood clots are realizing the far-reaching impact of the move. And they suddenly seem eager for any signal — or fig leaf — that allows them to resume the shots.
That could come as soon as Thursday, when the European Medicines Agency releases initial results of its investigations into whether there is a connection between the vaccine and the blood clots. So far, the EMA and World Health Organization have said there’s no evidence the vaccine is to blame.
But experts worry that the damage already has been done. The suspensions by Germany, France, Italy, Spain and others have fueled doubts about the oft-maligned AstraZeneca vaccine, and vaccination efforts in general, as the world struggles to vanquish the pandemic.
Experts: Virus surge in Europe a cautionary tale for US
Optimism is spreading in the U.S. as COVID-19 deaths plummet and states ease restrictions and open vaccinations to younger adults. But across Europe, dread is setting in with another wave of infections that is closing schools and cafes and bringing new lockdowns.
The pandemic’s diverging paths on the two continents can be linked in part to the much more successful vaccine rollout in the U.S. and the spread of more contagious variants in Europe.
Health experts in the U.S., though, say what’s happening in Europe should serve as a warning against ignoring social distancing or dropping other safeguards too early.
“Each of these countries has had nadirs like we are having now, and each took an upward trend after they disregarded known mitigation strategies,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They simply took their eye off the ball.”
The result has been a sharp spike in new infections and hospitalizations in several European countries over the past few weeks.
Washington state projected to get $3.2 billion more in taxes as economy brightens amid COVID-19 recovery
OLYMPIA — Washington’s state tax collections are roaring back, with an estimated additional $3.2 billion projected through 2023 as parts of the economy brighten and people get vaccinated amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s a big chunk of money for a state with a $53.3 billion, two-year state budget that funds schools, parks, prisons and other programs.
And it’s a startling turnaround since last spring, when the economy shut down as the COVID-19 outbreak took hold and a $9 billion shortfall emerged, sparking predictions ranging from another Great Recession to something closer to a depression.
Wednesday’s projections by the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council project $1.3 billion additional for this current, two-year budget cycle. An additional $1.9 billion increase is forecast for the 2021-23 budget cycle.
That puts Washington state about back to the economic growth expected before the pandemic hit, said Steve Lerch, director of the forecast council.
St. Patrick’s Day to be largely virtual in NYC for 2nd year
A largely virtual St. Patrick’s Day was planned for New York City on Wednesday, one year after the annual parade celebrating Irish heritage was canceled because of the pandemic.
Although the city’s usual huge parade with floats and marching bands was canceled, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined parade leaders and several dozen National Guard troops in marching up Madison Avenue early Wednesday morning to keep the tradition alive.
The city was just starting to shut down on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 and de Blasio waited until days before the parade to cancel it.
Multilingual team helps Berlin immigrants fight coronavirus
Three times a week, Aliye Tuerkyilmaz hits the markets and busy shopping streets of Neukoelln to hand out informational flyers on the coronavirus pandemic to residents of the German capital’s crowded immigrant neighborhood that’s studded with minarets, kebab stores and hookah lounges.
The 48-year-old Turkish immigrant who speaks four languages is part of a team of five street workers enlisted to explain the dangers of COVID-19 to people often not reached through traditional channels in an area where infection numbers have regularly been among the highest in the city.
There are a combination of factors that have made Neukoelln a virus hotspot in Berlin, but it was the lack of information making it to the residents that prompted the formation of Tuerkyilmaz’s “intercultural educational team,” or IKAT, in September by the Berlin NGO Chance BJS in coordination with district officials.
The hope is that they will be able to break through the lack of communication, which not only has to do with language barriers but also a deep distrust of German authorities fed by a sense of nonacceptance, says Kazim Erdogan, a community leader with Turkish roots.
EU sets out virus pass plan to allow free travel by summer
The European Union’s executive body proposed Wednesday issuing certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease.
With summer looming and tourism-reliant countries anxiously waiting for the return of visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission foresees the creation of certificates aimed at facilitating travel between EU member nations. The plan is set to be discussed during a summit of EU leaders next week,
“We all want the tourist season to start. We can’t afford to lose another season,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova told Czech public radio.
The topic of vaccine certificates has been under discussion for weeks in the EU, where it proved to be divisive. The travel industry and southern European countries with tourism-dependent economies like Greece and Spain have pushed for the quick introduction of a program that would help eliminate quarantines and testing requirements for tourists.
But several other EU members, including France, argued that it would be premature and discriminatory to introduce such passes since a large majority of EU citizens haven’t had access to vaccines so far.
Education Department convening summit to help schools reopen
The Biden administration is convening a summit next week to help get children back into the classroom safely in the middle of a pandemic.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the sessions March 24 will give education leaders, teachers and students an opportunity to share their experiences in reopening schools.
“The time is now, and schools must act immediately to get students safely back into school buildings,” he said.
President Joe Biden has pledged to have most elementary and middle schools open by the end of his first 100 days in office. He has ordered states to prioritize teachers in their vaccination plans, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines to help schools reopen.
Nepal expecting hundreds of Mount Everest climbers despite pandemic
Nepal is expecting hundreds of foreigners to attempt to scale the highest Himalayan peaks despite the pandemic.
The Department of Tourism in Kathmandu said Wednesday that more than 300 foreigners have expressed interest in climbing Mount Everest this spring.
The spring season, which is popular because of favorable weather, began this month. It extends up to the end of May, when weather deteriorates and climbing becomes dangerous.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
Starting today, many more front-line workers can get vaccines in Washington. They include (among others) grocery workers, bus drivers, pregnant women, some people with disabilities — and farmworkers, who are at the center of a big vaccination push. Here's our guide to getting a vaccine.
It's St. Patrick's Day, and pots of gold are arriving as federal stimulus payments start hitting bank accounts today. Find out how to track your payment.
New hot spots of infection are popping up in the U.S. after weeks of declining deaths and hospitalizations. In a week that's a major turning point for reopenings, disease experts are warning that a dangerous variant and a rush to return to normal life may prolong the pandemic.
Former President Donald Trump assured his supporters last night that COVID-19 vaccination is safe, saying he'd recommend it to "a lot of people that don’t want to get it."
Some COVID-19 "long-haulers" are getting a delightful surprise: Their symptoms are easing after vaccines. Scientists are baffled.
Do you have questions about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?Ask in the form below and we'll dig for answers. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, ask your question here. If you have specific medical questions, please contact your doctor.
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